Roller Coasters: Fun in the Sun or the Cause of Significant Trauma?

As we wind down Summer, everyone is trying to squeeze in that last little bit of fun before it turns to Fall. This means BBQs, dinners on the patio, and perhaps most of all, visits to the amusement park. And while we want you to enjoy your last amusement park visit of the season, we also want you to know that those roller coasters and bungee drops can really take your neck and spine on a not-so-fun ride. In fact, roller coasters can cause significant injury and trauma.

We’ve all seen the signs by rides that say “people with back injuries should not ride this ride.” That’s because the jostling and turning side to side that comes with these rides can potentially strain your neck and spine, potentially causing whiplash, increased pressure on the spinal canal, and in the most severe cases, even herniated discs.


We don’t want you to skip amusement parks altogether. Luckily, modern amusement ride engineering has come a long way in helping to prevent unnecessary strain and injury to thrill seekers. That said, there are still a number of steps that you can take to protect yourself from harm if you decide to go on an amusement park ride:


Firstly, stretch and warm up your body both before and after riding rides. It sounds a little silly, but doing this will improve your overall muscle strength, and it is an easy way to help prevent injury.


Second, if a sample seat for the ride is provided, try it out and see how your body fits. If the seat causes discomfort, adjust it or rethink taking the ride. Along those same lines, if no sample seat is available and you find the actual ride seat uncomfortable once you first sit in it, speak up and ask an attendant to help adjust it or don’t take the ride. There is no prize for suffering through an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous experience.


Third, if the ride has handles to hold onto, hold them! These handles were engineered to help keep you in a safe and proper riding position on the roller coaster.


Throughout the ride, try to keep your body and head as relaxed and possible, but also make sure you keep it straight in the seat. Tightening up or leaning forward as you experience the twists and turns of a roller coaster can really overtax your muscles, ligaments, and bones, which increases the risk of injury.


Finally, it should go without saying, but follow all rules and instructions regarding any rides you take. Never endanger yourself by failing to pay attention to amusement park safety guidelines. They are there for your protection as much as the park’s.


So, you’ve followed all of these precautions but unfortunately still managed to hurt your neck or tweak your back? Over the counter pain and anti-inflammatory medication and/or cold packs may help to ease the swelling and provide some relief. However, if pain persists, you may need to seek the help of a professional. Furthermore, the signs and symptoms of this trauma may take a few hours or days to even become noticeable. Stiffness, headaches, and other unusual sensations that present or persist should never be ignored.


We want you to enjoy your time at the amusement park with your family and friends. Remember these guidelines to have a fun and safer trip there. However, if you have a pre-existing issue with your back or neck, skip the roller coasters all together. There are always plenty of things to do and see without putting yourself in harm’s way.

Dr. Donald Hope